Your Hero Journey: Less Hero, More Journey
Does this title sound daunting? Don’t worry. In this context, you already are the hero….the leading man or lady of your own life. What’s more difficult are the steps that come next. In this post, we’ll take a look at approaching your goals through the lens of the hero journey. In Joseph Campbell’s book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, he describes the key elements that make up the journey towards any accomplishment that is truly worthwhile. This construct can be traced back to age-old mythology and has taken root in pop culture classics, from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings. Even if you haven’t heard the term hero journey, you will recognize the general structure – and hopefully appreciate some pieces of advice that are relevant to wherever you happen to be in the process. Maybe you are undergoing a few of these stages at once, related to different areas of your life (career goals, personal achievements, etc).
Here are a few of the key stages, with solutions for whichever you happen to be in:
The Call to Adventure
This is all about taking the first step and visualizing what you want to achieve. The excitement and newness of this stage is quickly followed by “Refusal of the Call.” Paralysis by analysis can stop even the most well-intentioned people before they begin. Starting small, and forgetting about fear of failure, is clutch.
Don’t think about the marathon, just make plans with a friend to work out. Don’t think about the novel, just open up that word document and put some stream-of-conscious words on (e-)paper. Lose the fear of perfection because that isn’t attainable anyway. Being passionate about anything is a magnetic trait, and good things will come to you by having that.
Also, before you embark, give yourself the strength you need for the journey. This can mean protecting your sleep by looking up meditation tactics, practicing mindfulness, or doing some Sunday night meal prep to ensure you have the physical fuel you need.
Road of Trials
As with anything worthwhile, you may start to encounter obstacles along the way. Like Sinatra said, “sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down”. Do you feel like you’re struggling to reach those achievements? Taking one step forward and two steps back? It might help to print out a calendar and mark off even seemingly tiny achievements on a daily basis. Don’t be too hard on yourself or take on too much at once. Once you give up the illusion of control, you are free.
Belly of the Whale
This is rock bottom. The culmination of your struggles. But all is not lost! As Brad Pitt wisely stated in Fight Club, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Because we can go on more than one hero’s journey in our lives, it often feels like we have hit new lows. But this can represent a special kind of freedom. And it will get better. Often those who have gained the most have also lost the most.
If you feel like this stage resonates with you, it may help to write down five things that you are grateful for every night. Not only does this practice give perspective, but it allows you to pick out what energizes you and brings joy in order to replicate and enhance those behaviors moving forward. Know what psyches you up. Whether it’s a guilty pleasure song or an inspirational YouTube video, keep those things on deck.
In this stage, the protagonist (yes, you!) will run into something alluring that may distract you from your goal. Maybe it is a person, alternate opportunity, or easy way out. But don’t let this someone or something get you off track! Keep an eye out for hubris disguised as confidence, greed disguised as ambition, or ‘settling for less’ disguised as safety. The key here is to be discerning. This stage can teach you, or it can lead you astray for who knows how long.
This is your revelation. Maybe you are finally getting rid of that toxic relationship you’ve been holding onto for far too long or you’ve identified the bad habit impeding your success. This doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, but instead just personally meaningful to you. Take wins where you can. You don’t need to be that model-perfect person on Instagram who has the luxury of devoting all their time to exercise and a team dedicated to helping you with nutrition and workouts. This is about trying to be better than yourself, yesterday.
The Ultimate Boon
Congrats, you’ve done it! You’ve run that marathon or kicked that bad habit. This stage goes hand-in-hand with “Master of Two Worlds.” It is now time to share the wealth. Bring everything full circle and reap the rewards. Achieving your goal is critical because it brings fulfillment from within, instead of tying it to another person or possession. Instead of only basking in your success, recognize where others are and take just a few seconds to check in with those close to you. You never know how much a text, handwritten note, or care package after a difficult breakup can mean to someone. Do what you can to make others smile.
And don’t forget about yourself. Take time to reflect on an ongoing basis, assessing your goals at intervals that are meaningful to you (like your birthday). Analyze recurring trends and set significant goals, like learning to let go gracefully. Think carefully about how to accept and thrive in the reality around you. Last but not least – reward yourself! Maybe take a trip to somewhere on your bucket list, like a country that speaks the language you’ve been learning.
So, what does it all come down to? Be your own hero. If you build your happiness, then no one else can take it away.
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Photo credit: Spencer Stanton